Despite my reading and critical reflection on management tools, at the end of the day I still have a day-job and I am responsible for projects. Projects funded by donors and agreements that specify outputs and outcomes in exchange for the money. I am under no illusions that the arrangement is far from pure or ideal, and I do my best to introduce humanity and good values into the project cycles I am responsible for. I try to be the layer between the community and the corporate demands.
Yet with a growing programme things are getting to big for me to do myself, I need a team. One team member is doing a great job, probably better than me. The other team members see themselves, not as called, but employees. They have a different work ethic, they have a lack of exposure and their productivity is not just adversely affected by skills and knowledge, but more-so by attitude. It seems few people can mix friendship and freedom with productivity.
As Project Manager, I have to justify money spent and what the results of short term projects were. The project design is compromised, but certain specifics are built in to buy time and space so real development can happen. Meaning, to provide stimulus, you ‘sell’ a basic project that is uncomplicated and unlikely to do harm. This superficial design creates a platform for real relationships to grow and for individuals to discover themselves and grow. In this game, you have to do the basics with excellence. My subordinates did not manage to do this, more concerned with talking and image that producing results. I tried friendship and freedom, they did not respond. Due to short time cycles of evaluation, I could not tolerate continued slackness. So I did what all managers at some stage do and I embraced the very elements of the system I hate. I resorted to using money and contracts as motivators. I introduced weekly written reports. As a manager it was the right thing to do. I have a responsibility towards the money and contracts. Simple.
Philosophically, the compromised turned my calling into a job even more. I became a bit less human and a bit more resource. I embraced my title of manager. I affirmed my power over my team. I exchanged exploration and deconstructing defiance for rigidity and control. Once you signed the contract, you can try to play the game, but integrity requires compliance. If you dont like the system, you need to take the fight higher, you need to be in dialogue with the source of the money. Managers and coordinators are trapped in a cycle where they get paid to manage and coordinate each other.
Here in my blog, and hopefully one day in my further studies, I am the idealist, the voice of reason in a silly system. But I am also an employee who is forced to compromise. If I don’t want to compromise I have to resign, and that at this stage will not lead to the greatest good. In my work, governed by the power lines of linear managerialism I sometimes cause dishonesty, pain, theft, regret, inferiority. I am the cause of things I hate.
My dream is that one day, I will have a job where I would get paid to do the right things in the right way. My hunch is that I would have to create an organisation and a movement that would enable such. With a dominant system too strong to change, we can only strive to be a) a good example b) create exemplary organisations and lastly hope to spark new movements.
For now, I have to deal with living in a paradox, living a contradictory life. I wonder what the cost and effect will be to me?
So often we meet someone and they ask us: “So, what do you do?” and I think it’s a useless and even destructive question, which in future, will meet my answer: “I’ll tell you what I do if you tell me who you are?”
Why is this important? Because, questions inform conversations and conversations en up informing budgets. And, we all know budgets make the world go round. Therefore, I don’t fight the budget, I rather resist the question that informs the discourse that prescribe the policies that direct the budget. Our sickness of evaluating doing over being has hollowed out the wealthy west and it is being forced onto millions of Africans who will trade their life for pragmatism and shallow cleverness, characterised by buzzwords like transparency and accountability, driven by cheap acronyms and lengthy reports written by academics who know nothing of life.
There is bad luck, then there is our reaction to that bad luck.
The so called trap or cycle of poverty is not about the actual bad luck or unfortunate circumstances, but in the way we respond to it by dulling the heart and mind and moving into a life, dominated by our bodies.
Sex makes us feel powerful when really we are powerless, beer makes us forget what should not be forgotten and food gives us a feeling of fullness to ignore a deep emptiness. In sex, food and beer men satisfy their heart, body and mind- cheaply, immediately, sadly.
In this state, apathy rules. Yet, when confronted with the success or ambition of a peer, the hidden soul peeps out to slander, gossip or complain. The desire for unity or cooperation is long gone and the impulse towards change has withered.
The trust in hope, and the hope in trust have made way for resentment and self-pity.
Yet, the eating, drinking and fucking goes on… it dampens the hurt of the hungry heart.
I read the 195 small pages of the concise version and I’m very grateful for that choice, since this little book contains so much nonsense and such diverse themes with contradictory advice that a larger or more comprehensive version of it, might have prevented me from finishing it! Nevertheless, I gained and learnt much from it, I gained because the content drips with reality and applied knowledge. The ideas and advice is applicable and implementable; the readers only choice is whether to take and employ the advice or not.
This choice boils down, for me, to a decision of whether you view yourself as a human or an animal. Clever people will immediately say we are both, and Greene constantly uses the phrase ‘human animal’, but that emphasises the animal side. The debate about to what extent we are animals is not really the issue though, the question is, when we employ metaphors and set moral and ethical ideals, do we construct these ideals to become the smarted animals or the best humans? So, never mind genetics and evolutionary history, we are faced with choices where we can act like animals or humans. Personally, I fully recognise my animal nature, and that is why in theory, reflection and ideals, I have to go 100% towards being a human being. Just because I have teeth does not mean I have to bite other people.
I found the book helpful for a few reasons. Greene reveals and promotes sneaky tricks to get to the top, and just as we find it disgusting, we discover chapters that act as mirrors, we discover how we learnt to automatically do many of these clever and manipulative tricks and strategies! Society and experience taught us to play the power game. Greene makes the pensive reader aware that we all play the game to some extent. The book leaves you with a choice: do I try to stop the tricks and live an alternative innocent naive life, or do I become a master tactician in the games of power. We live in a power jungle, and to some extent you need jungle law in the jungle- or you die. Followers of the New Testament Jesus (and I don’t mean church going christians) might find the predicament more acute. How sincere, how naive should we be and does naivety equal sincerity? If I think of Jesus, he played many social games: the silence before Pilate, the answering questions with questions, the naughty metaphors of turning cheeks, the embarrassment of writing in sand… Jesus was constantly playing people. Yet there was a grounded purpose to his games and it was not popularity, it was didactical and strategic. Innocent like a dove, sneaky like a snake: wow, hardcore cutting edge advice, 2000 years ago. It is not easy to operate in the grey, we are addicted to black or white answers, we are addicted to the creation of opposites; it makes us feel clever and in control.
Greene, thought he is writing an assured money maker, by providing selfish people with ammunition to trample on others. Yet, as was the case with Machiaveli, he supposes such a hyperbole of unpretentious animality that his ‘tricks of the trade’ manual, becomes a profound philosophical workshop, an ethical shakeout. I’ve been reading one law each day, for 48 days. I did this as ‘bible study’ and the irony is, by reading such a dirty little bible, it did a splendid job of reverse psychology, increasing my hunger for unselfish goodness. Sure, I picked up many tricks along the journey and if I can stay grounded or rooted, I will do well to implement many of these tools, not because Im in a war against others, but because I need to influence people addicted to silly rhythms and beliefs. THe tool can be the key to unlock a door, then friendship and love will be the actual door we walk through to explore the rooms of deeper life.
I would definitely advise the little book, for naive people to sharpen up, and for sneaky people to reevaluate their moral stance.
Michel Foucault (1) in 1967 wrote an unpublished article entitled “Des Espace Autres” (2) whereby he introduced the concept of heterotopias. In this reflection I want to make that obscure article plainly accessible and relate its relevance to a space in the Mozambican town of Manica, a space called Futeco Park (3) (hereafter Futeco). Both Foucault and I, for different reasons focus on multiplicity, a desanctification of homogenous spaces, both geographic and philosophical. Foucault holds that we live in a ‘epoch of space’ which is an “…epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of near and far, of the side by side, of the dispersed.” Time has changed space, partly due to air travel and internet and partly due to demystification of thought. I will now relate Foucault’s ideas of heterotopias, then apply that to Futeco and lastly explore learning (as opposed to teachings) for the world of so called ‘development’.
A preliminary reading of Foucault might be intimidating or frustrating for a popular audience and it is important to take his vague sentences and ensure that our commentary illuminates its idea in simple language and not to enthral his notions in further obscurity by employing pretentious linguistic metaphor. At the heart of Foucault’s argument lies the notion that relations are a more valid term of reference than the construction and dichotomised allocation of actual space. If this sounds confusing it is a result of my inability to articulate: simply put, the idea of space or place is very important but what makes it important is how it affects and is affected by our relationships, with each other, with things, with history and with ourselves. Society through its relational frameworks give meaning to space, and that obviously changes over time as society and culture itself changes. “We do not live in a homogenous and empty space” is how Foucault would express this. Furthermore, he states that “The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space.” In this simple explanation lies the crux of his concept of heterotopias, a big ‘koeksister’ of a word for a simple idea.
By illustrating how Futeco is a heterotopia, the very concept of a heterotopia will become clear. Futeco is significant for a few reasons. It is not a mere public space, it is a heterotopia, a form of realised utopia (a dream) that influences other spaces through the tension of its existence in a contradictory stance towards normative architectural and ideological expressions. Heterotopias are “counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” Besides this explanation, Foucault uses the image of a mirror to explain the function of a heterotopia, a real reflection of reality that affects reality. These mirrors or heterotopias, find expression in all cultures.
Foucault mentions a few principles of heterotopias, and I will highlight these as they apply to Futeco. Traditionally, heterotopias involved forms of psychological crisis or trauma and included, from the place of ‘deflowering’ on honeymoon, to boarding schools, prisons and retirement homes. All these places were reflections of reality to accommodate people who had difficulty in normal society. In Manica, Futeco addresses a crisis of poverty, broken-families, recreational infrastructure, economic empowerment, cross-cultural interaction and lack of education; all of which are legacies of colonialism and civil war. Secondly, as is already apparent from the above example, a heterotopia can have multiple functions that can change over time. What starts as a space to play sport can grow into a learning space and eventually become an environmental conservation project that incorporates social enterprise! Thirdly, the heterotopia is a reflection of many things, it has “superimposed meanings” and represents diverse institutions at the same time, just like a cinema or a garden. Futeco, with its football fields, become the local theatre for young gladiators to express themselves regardless of surrounding poverty. Futeco also contrasts the sterility of the typical classroom at public schools with an open space where learning can take place. Another characteristic is that heterotopias represents unique periods or moments in time, which Foucault call heterochronies (different times). A simple example is a museum or library that tries to capture the past in a present location. Futeco is juxtaposed by the main clubhouse of GDM, whereas the clubhouse has a historical link and remembrance, Futeco is aimed at a future expression, the two sites being three kilometres apart and the old in the town centre, but the new on the outskirts, drawing the town and the people out to grow and explore. A Fifth principle of heterotopias is the idea of passage, of opening and closing. Unlike a normal public space, like the park in the town centre, Futeco is accessible through certain rites and conditions: belonging to a football team, coming to play or learn, coming in to do volunteer work, being an adepto of GDM. The space is public and private at the same time. Lastly, heterotopias comments on other real spaces. This happens through a illusionary or symbolic commentary on other real spaces and Futeco does that and to a degree is an ideal or utopian vision, but heterotopias can also be alternative real spaces, that meets needs that our current spaces do not address sufficiently and again Futeco serves this purpose. Futeco thus meets all six principles that Foucault lays out as characteristic of heterotopias.
Next to Futeco Park is a cemetery. Easily observable in the irony of its massive trees and overgrown bush. Futeco Park has as one of its objectives the protection of nature and the conservation of natural habitat. Ironically, in the town of Manica, it is the living spaces of living people that kills nature and flora, whilst the cemetery is the only sight where trees are not cut, and the cemetery becomes a gigantic green bouquet of the dead, celebrating life. Cemeteries are one of Foucault’s main examples of heterotopias and he explains how in Western society the cemetery used to be at the heart of the town, but today it has been moved to the outskirts to form an alternative town, of the dead. The cemetery that is now next to Futeco, use to be on the outskirts, but with Futeco moving to the outskirts, life is encroaching upon death! Bringing youthful liveliness into reflective contact with those that learnt and played before us. An aerial picture shows three layers of vegetation: the disturbed areas of normal Manica life, the somewhat conserved area of Futeco (after year 4) and the rich forest of the cemetery in the near background. Futeco inherited, unintentionally, a significant and profound neighbour and the actual presence of the cemetery might be worth more that many pages of life-skills curriculum.
In post-graduate studies you will come across a few words that basically mean the same thing: dichotomy, binary or dualism, all of which refers to mans cheap tendency to understand things and sound clever through simplistic comparison. The lazy mind loves these dichotomies. Heaven and hell, teacher and student, city and nature, hunter and hunted, poor and rich, stupid and smart, Europe and Africa, black and white, male and female, and so it goes on. So, if you want to save yourself five years at university, simply learn that the truth is grey, that all things are interrelated and not isolated opposites. Search for relationships between things and don’t divide them. Development has consistently proven itself incapable of this transition, and due to the World Bank, USAid and the like insistence to ‘snap out of it’ we now sit with a field called ‘post development’. I understand that it is difficult to open your mind if you risk losing money, control and power. Most educated westerners are simply too scared to venture down a path of development that would firstly, require them to be developed and to unlearn all the quasi wisdom of technocrats. Development practitioners love boxes. A picture of before, a budget to fix that, a picture of the after, to prove that the money was not wasted- this is their heaven. Foucault’s concept of heterotopias illustrates the multiplicity of spaces and the contradictory nature of norms. Life loves to flow over the lines and out of the boxes, life is not only beautifully messy, but the unpredictability and contradictions is what makes life lively.
I could write Futeco and its people into a logframe, but it would be an injustice. I could brand the attempt to merge Futebol and Ecologia (Futeco) like Fifa does through Brazil 2014’s Fuleco, but it would plasticify something that has life in its veins. I could turn the multiplicity of Futeco into a list of objectives, but it will industrialise and rigidify something that is organic. I could organogram the shit out of the Human Resources involved, but it would insult what is currently family. I could build a model and blueprint out of the novel success of Futeco, but it would deny recipient communities a journey. I will not make a case for post development here, I believe the respective scholars does that sufficiently and better than I could, but I wonder why Esteva and Illich are not more prominent around the boardroom tables that discuss the lives of the so called poor. I know that deeper understanding and an appreciation of grey areas and interconnectedness across arbitrary lines does not fit in well with engineering style project management, and until those who give the money start to see the poor as their friends and family, the system will not change, because the money demands a certain style of management. The fact that that management style undermines true development is inconsequential because for these pawns that draw salaries in organisations funded by illiterate cash, money talks and bullshit walks. One can become a specialist to undermine your gut and supress your emotions, especially when a salary and all it buys depends on that. No one acts against their true beliefs, they just make sure their true beliefs do not venture down an inconvenient truth. How I wish there were more brilliant and critical minds like Foucault at work in the development world today. How I wish the experts had the same hunger and structures to learn and grow as those they try to implement for the poor.
Foucault was attracted with the idea and image of a boat, a house that can be home and simultaneously explore the globe, a place that is safe and dangerous, a place of belonging and imagination. To a degree, Futeco is a metaphorical boat for Manicans and their visitors to climb upon and discover back into history some harmony with nature, to travel to current expressions of health and enjoyment, to learn from journeys forward through dreams of a better life.
(1) Pronounced miʃɛl fuko
(2) http://foucault.info/documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html accessed 28 April 2013
(3) A project or expression of Grupo Desportivo de Manica (GDM), who is a community club that tries to do
development through sport. The site was established and name chosen in 2009.
There are many forms and expressions of development, but the dominant idea behind the word simply refers to the efforts to address poverty. Post-development scholars have revealed most of the myths associated with development thinking, Rist, Illich, Esteva, Sachs, Shiva and Escobar being the best known. For me, as an aspiring academic who grew up privileged in Africa, there is no option to dismiss development as a tool of control that maintains current power relations. I am forced, by the faces of my friends to redefine and improve developmental efforts. In general the man on the street can encounter three areas of development discourse: government support, corporate giving and grassroots expressions.
Government support, although it can include south-south cooperation (like BRICS) is generally characterised by IMF and World Bank support to governments of poor countries. Typically to build roads or dams, finance health systems or do all sorts of ‘capacity building’. I would categorise multi million dollar projects of huge NGO’s and development agencies like USAID or SIDA in this same group. Most of the scholarly articles on development address initiatives in these categories, for the simple reason that this is where the money is and where there is money you will inevitably find an expert with something to say or write. These are the leaders of the development discourse, followed blindly and naively by all the citizens downstream. By following blindly I include the minor critiques of methods and the debates about minutiae, since the debates seldom question the system, the grand assumptions and the theory of change as affected by power. I will note that certain rules are appropriate when building dams and roads, but those should not be extended to for example, individual rural youths or illiterate women.
In a country like South Africa, corporate social -responsibility or –investment is common and standard practice. Every large corporation has to spend money on SED (socio economic development) and so a new breed of quasi developmental experts arose. These are the unqualified agents that are paid to use the poor to do marketing for their ‘brand’. I have met hundreds of CSI managers and besides being a favourite BBBEE position to fill, these are employees moved from HR or Marketing and they do not have academic or contextual knowledge that could assist them with a proper strategy of engaging the poor and maximising return for the corporation. Companies have ill-defined mandates as to how they should ‘help the poor’ and are normally evaluated instead on the ‘bang for their buck’ rather than any type of sustainable impact on change in the lives of the poor. The poor are current or future consumers and if not, they will be used to show the wealthy customers from what a respectable institution they are buying. CSI have fundamental flaws, yet there is such large amounts of money at stake that one cannot simply ignore or give up on it.
This brings us to the actual subjects of development, the efforts of the so-called poor. I say so-called, because anyone who have lived with the materially wealthy and materially not so wealthy knows how ironic it is to call they guy in the Ferrari rich and the family in a hut poor. Yet, for sake of the conversation I will speak of poor and rich, to indicate those without and with material opportunities that can include income, education, electricity, water, safety, mobility that can translate to the ability to make choices. The journey of a poor person to lift themselves up, with or without assistance from the rich is a journey that has fundamental differences from the two areas of development described above. How you build a road and how you link a brand to a poor community is a very different matter compared to the journey a disadvantaged youth has to follow until he can look any typical westerner squarely in the eye and compete equally on any level. The type of ‘help’ that the ‘West’ and companies give, normally undermines actual development of the beneficiaries. The problem is in the ‘how?’ of the help, and the ‘how?’ is influenced by a refusal to be critical and a refusal to fundamentally challenge the system. The reason for that is that sacrifice is not a concept that sits well with the rich. Their help is viewed as investments and investments are not sacrifices, they don’t lead to losses. Investors need returns that put them in a better position than before they made their investments. In a world with limited resources, true development, the lifting of the poor has to have an affect on the rich that sees them move down. Consumption of luxury goods has to come under scrutiny in the face of human suffering. This does not sit well in the offices of development agencies and CSI offices. They prefer to focus on the technical aspects of the projects they invest in: how to apply, how to monitor and how to evaluate. They are technocrats in that the more you focus on the acronyms and frameworks of documentation (including workshops) the less the chance is that the poor can ask real questions of equality and reciprocity. By treating the poor as a building contractors (who even have to tender!), donors prevent the critique that their involvement is more patronising tokenism than a willingness to really share wealth and promote equality.
Many problems that occur in the direct interaction with actual poor people (called beneficiaries) derive from the metaphors and language made normative by the first two spheres of development (World Bank and Corporates). Development is implemented and talked about today using the language and imagery of finance and investment management. Money is invested, invested money requires a return. To ensure a return normative managerial practices are assumed and these are based on accounting, and traditional project management. In finance they speak of the agency problem, mechanisms has to be in place to ensure the managers are controlled so that they make all decisions with the good of the shareholder in view. Most delopment workers feel a sense of cleverness when they talk about return on investment, human resources, beneficiaries, stakeholders, and other financial metaphors. Yet, they seldom bother to be consistent in their appropriation of imagery. Who is the shareholder in a small NGO or GRO? The model says it is the investor, the person giving money. Yet, surely the actual poor should be the shareholders of their own efforts and lives? Where does that leave the donor, s a stakeholder? The imagery quickly becomes inappropriate. Finance and Investment is all about profit, long term wealth creation for the shareholder, measured in financial wealth. And in this, the fundamental flaw is revealed. Donors and sub donors do business in a way that will suit their investors. Power is thus in the hands of the investor, all the rest become employees. Employees that has to conform to the system if they want a slice of the pie. As sincere development workers continue to claim their main concern is with the benefit of the poor, they refuse to admit the donor is the shareholder and everyone must ensure maximum return for the shareholder. Sometimes they drop words and concepts from other metaphors into this investment game: giving, charity, help, solidarity, autonomy, sacrifice, friendship, love, respect are all words you will not find in a handbook on finance and investment management.
What model or metaphor is appropriate then in the efforts to ‘walk with the poor’? The paradigm that first shattered my way of thinking is the model of a family. I was born as a baby with less skill and ability than any poor person on earth and today I am fully developed and on top of the food chain. Why? Because my parents developed me. My parents made me develop by giving me love and freedom, by making countless sacrifices, and believe it or not, I never filled in application forms as a kid, I was never monitored and evaluated making sure my actions are aligned to my intended outcomes, objectives and goals. There were no audits on my pocket money, there were no written links between budget and outputs and my parents would not reallocate funding if one of my siblings produced better return on investment. Obviously I feel family is a better model to follow when we work with the so called poor. Families are built on love and respect, on commitment irrespective of performance. My family helped me develop; yet there are many families, which are dysfunctional, and never led to the development of their kids. That is not because there is a problem with the idealised views and principles of families, but simply because the parents did not have skills and money. In development, the donors and donor agencies doe have skills and money, yet they could, in theory fulfil the role of good parents just like my mom and dad did. If you are now clever enough not to want to be paternalistic, feel free to call yourself a brother or sister. If we can be honest about where the ‘rich’ can learn from the ‘poor’ then the former can also unashamedly help and teach in other areas where the latter require help. Most empowerment or capacity development workshops are paternalistic and prescriptive any way, so it’s a bit ironic for those organisers to call a family metaphor patronising. A family assumes long-term commitment, compared to a weekend, a year or even a three year intervention. Who change in a year anyway? Me? You? Yet we expect that of poor rural youths and women…
Because of corruption, the system today is obsessed with transparency and accountability, concepts that assumes and reinforce the notion that I am working with potential criminals. Yet, real criminals are experts at writing and reporting and whilst staying in the safety of reports and audits the money never reach the poor. Again the CEO’s and shareholders that demand audits never audit their own children: they trust them. People are quick to employ business or management language when reflecting on dealings with Africa or the poor, yet these cheap borrowings are more parroting of management cliché’s than reflective insight informed by theory and practice. People often talk about the poor, without having poor friends. Talking in abstractions is much different than speaking on behalf of people you call your friends. Development workers are normally hypocritical. They will give a workshop to the poor, yet not house that poor person in their home. If you don’t like my metaphor of family for whatever reason, perhaps consider the metaphor of friendship to guide our developmental efforts. By simply treating every person as a personal and equal friend, you would immediately eliminate 90% of the most common errors and pitfalls. Yet, the rich do not really want to befriend the poor, because it will cost them, it will lead to uncomfortable sharing and sacrifice.
Besides family or friendship, one could also consider classical charity, where giving was not investment, but simply a gift. Talk of the dangers of impersonal hand-outs and the idea of a bottomless pit has made pure giving without payback or control very unpopular, and people justify their conditions and control in the name of stewardship and responsibility. That makes sense in situations where one would just hand out cash to a face you don’t know. Yet, when you have made the effort to know someone deeply, as family member or friend, then a no strings attached gift is often the most empowering thing you can do, because it is translated as respect and belief in that person. That is real empowerment because you gave away, not just cash, but also control. In these situations even failure becomes valuable because the failure and hurt becomes the real classroom where people learn and grow. The freedom to choose and the freedom to fail are worth more than any curriculum and certificate. Those are short-cut replacement for real growth and learning. How many people treat their marriage as an investment? With planning charts, objectives, outputs, outcomes and regular evaluations? How many people go on holiday and quantify the financial investment of that trip in terms of outputs and outcomes? Yet billions of dollars are spent every year by rich people, who ‘instinctively’ knows that the holidays are good for them and justify the expense. Again, it is difficult to practice what you preach! If you want my friends in rural Africa to structure their lives as a financial investment, do the same with your wife, your kids and your holidays… Think.
For development to work, rich people should start to investigate where they need development, where they need to change and grow. Once that starts, then interaction with the poor will become meaningful and mutually empowering. Yet almost all development efforts assume the dichotomy of developed and underdeveloped, the have’s and the have-not’s, the givers and the receivers. If your system does not include two way application processes, 360 evaluation and reporting transparent budgets on both sides, then I am afraid you are doing a primitive form of ‘development’ that use, no, steal, clever words from other disciplines, and this type of engagement will not develop, it will maintain the gap, or increase the gap.
The buzzwords from finance and project management are the give-away signs that someone is depersonalising another person. So every time you hear the word audit, return, capital, risk, stakeholder, report, investment, evaluation, beneficiary, participant, performance or even sustainability; take note because these are the little alarm bells that indicate that the system has made another proselyte. Let’s use the names of our friends, not making generalisations, let’s move closer to each other. Above all, let us not use words, when we don’t even know the history of who introduced those words, when and where and to what purpose. Let us try to refrain from making noise as clever parrots.
I’m happy to have spent some time in Barcelona and London recently. You cannot really know your own country if you don’t know other countries. You cannot critique Europeans if you have never visited their places.
In many small things our country (Mzansi) is still a baby, perhaps a teenager. In many basics we have not learnt to work together; that a small bit of respect and restraint can pay back for everyone. Two simple examples: littering and driving. We do not yet believe that the country is ours. If we did we would treat it and it’s people better, we would not be so short-term minded and selfish. We are not yet building as a society, the majority of us are in a selfish hustle and struggle to survive and enrich ourselves. Our systems and processes are still weak. People say we have had 18 years of democracy and that things should have changed, but 18 years is nothing. A city like Barcelona or London took a long, long time to get where it is today and still they have problems.
Let the good and smart among us sacrifice, lead and invest; so maybe after 100 years we have a good country.
“Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.”
– David Starr Jordan
Everyone wants a fancy car, a big house, a happy life. All around me I see young people with a certain kind of ambition, it is an ambition likened to a dream, an ambition to be at the top of the ladder. Yet, I see very few people with a driven ambition to take the next step with complete dedication, integrity and discipline, I see few who are willing to sacrifice, sometimes step down or to wait patiently on the ladder. Sometimes, there is no ladder and you have to build the ladder yourself! Some ladders have many small steps, some ladders require a giant leap through the air before you can find the safety of the next rung.
Yesterday, I used an interesting way of reflecting on this issue of ‘taking the next step’. I sat for two hours designing a logo for a company, imagining the name to be Next Step. As I scribbled I had the calmness and time to reflect on the general issue and personal application.
I was flown down to Cape Town to do two four-hour teachings to students at the African Leadership Institute for Community Transformation. I dreaded it and despised the fact that I have to go speak to strangers who consider themselves Christians, yet wanted to talk about conflict and vision buy-in. I was not excited and would not have said yes if my boss didn’t ask me to go. Nevertheless I went. Day one was good. Day two turned out to be electrifying. It was utterly unexpected.
I very seldom write religious blogs and these days I seldom do religious talks. In fact, I’m on a bit of a secular pilgrimage that employs downplay with the aim to purify and bring into focus the things from my childhood that I have lost. These are things of integrity, naivety, belief and goodness. I figured out that the only way for me to get closer to Christ, was to walk away from him. Jesus said we have to lose our life to find it, I believe the same applies to our faith. You have to lose it to get it.
The reason is simple, in that the faith we think we have is not the pure love of God, but a stained, coloured, dirty version of mixed up sentiments and dogmatic beliefs that hinder more than it helps. To say something smart, we first need to shut up. I have to daily place my beliefs and religion at His feet, acknowledging I don’t know shit. In the abandonment of knowing the answers and in the sacrifice of adherence to cheap shortcut rules (like not swearing), I find a rawness that provides enough texture for the Salt to take effect. My spiritual journey takes one step forward and two steps back. What I’m discovering is that that is appropriate, since I am supposed to go backwards and downwards; away from my cleverness and away from my ambitions.
Back to the second day in Wellington with the young Christian leaders. I tried to deconstruct the notion of leadership as influence, by opposing it to Sen’s idea of development as the freedom to choose. In that sense many ‘christian’ attempts to lead are not Christian at all, because to really love and respect someone we should assist them to make their own choices and thus develop. We should not be aiming to influence people towards buying into our vision. It is ironic that Christian ‘leaders’ get taught to lead and not to follow. There is a degree of glorious influence and leadership, but only if it is born from a following and a supporting. Jesus was so strong that he was weak. He ended up ridiculed and killed. Yet we struggle to draw such image into our definitions and praxis of leadership. I’m tempted to say screw leadership, because the word is tainted. And yes, if you are smart you would realise that my desire to say ‘fuck leadership’ is the same as my ascetic journey that denies the luxury of Christian talk. We have to walk away, in order to arrive at a radical rediscovery. Such discoveries cannot be read or learnt from others. It has to be walked.
By writing this blog on both Jesus and Leadership I undermine my own journey, I release my godly tension of insecure blindness and muteness. I engage in sweet temptation of analysis and I do this sin willingly and sober. Such is the strength of my carnal mind and wimpy ego.
We associate ‘radical’ with something new and crazy, but radical actually means getting back to the root, the original, rootedness. So, my radical notions of development is in fact old school. To learn, to listen, to have and show respect, to build friendship and trust… these are way older than interventions, outputs, and all sorts of technical project management jargon.
The rich has been doing development (outreach/ engagement/ mission/ involvement/ investment… call it what you want) in a perverted unauthentic way that cost them little and basically serve their own needs more than that of those they intend to help. I include myself, sadly. Fake Development vs Radical Development is perhaps an idealistic duality, perhaps the realistic choice, considering how Westerners engage these days, should be fake development vs no development. Again, you might think I am too harsh, too critical… but I am not alone!
Last night as I lay in bed at 2 a.m., not managing to sleep I started googling and discovered a speech by Ivan Illich (1926-2002). Illich speaks not about radical development, but rather fake development. His suggestions are radical, very radical: